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Quarters no more? 

President Armstrong will decide between quarter and semester systems for Cal Poly

A report is expected to land on Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong’s desk by Dec. 14, detailing what it would take for the university to convert from the quarter system to semesters. Cal Poly has used the quarter system since its establishment in 1901, but most schools worldwide break their class schedules into longer, semester-sized chunks.

In September, Armstrong formed a Semester Review Task Force (SRTF) consisting of 23 people representing a wide swath of campus interests, including various administrators and faculty members from every college. Three student representatives—Derek Majewski, Nate Honeycutt, and Tatiana Prestininzi—were chosen by Cal Poly Associated Students, Inc. President Katie Morrow to speak for students on the task force.

“SRTF representatives are weighed toward staff and faculty because these issues are technical in nature and students don’t have all of the information for educated decisions,” said Honeycutt, a third year mathematics major and political science minor.

The three student representatives see a clear distinction between their role in the task force and their role as regular students. They represent the views of the 18,000 members of the student body as a whole.

The task force met eight times—including four workshops—between October and November to draft their recommendation to Armstrong, which will include an estimated cost, a recommended course load for students, and a timeline for conversion.

As of press time, campus officials said financial figures weren’t yet available.

After reviewing the report, President Armstrong will spend roughly a month discussing the conversion idea with campus leaders and the Academic Senate before making a final decision, which is expected in the winter quarter, according to Chip Visci, the president’s director of communications.

If Armstrong decides to make the conversion to the semester system, he’ll instigate a year of planning, followed by two to three years of actual conversion, complete with curriculum rewrites. Hundreds of Cal Poly courses would either be combined or taken off the books completely.

Across the nation, nearly 90 percent of universities are on the semester system. The majority of Cal State University campuses follow the status quo with only six exceptions, including both polytechnic universities. However, this isn’t the case with the UC campuses, as only Berkeley and Merced are on the semester system.

A model campus used for comparisons by the task force is the Rochester Institute of Technology in Henrietta, N.Y., another high-ranking polytechnic university (albeit a private one) that recently made a conversion to the semester system.

Before Rochester switched to the semester system, it had 15,000 courses on the books. This was reduced to 7,000 courses.

“I see benefit to the semester system,” said Cal Poly’s Brian Tietje, who was appointed vice provost of international, graduate, and extended education in September after serving as dean of the Orfalea College of Business.

According to Tietje, Cal Poly would better match the rest of the world with a semester system, the predominant term schedule across the planet. Students could pursue more exchange and study abroad programs under the semester, and Cal Poly would be more attractive to international students, he explained.

An example of an international opportunity for students that the semester provides is known as the J-term. Because colleges on the semester system have most of January off, a lot of campuses send their students abroad that month. This gives students an additional opportunity besides summer to study elsewhere while spending their terms at Cal Poly. There has never been a “D-term” in December because of the holidays.

Proponents of the quarter system believe that its fast pace prepares Cal Poly students to adjust to the similar pace of innovation and industry in technical and corporate fields. Quarters also allow students to pack more classes into four years, facilitating double majors and minors.

However, a criticism of the quarter system, cited by students and faculty alike, is that 10 weeks isn’t enough time for many courses to be taught. Though Tietje has spent several years in administration, he can easily relate to this idea as a former professor.

“Having taught marketing, I typically had students form teams and then I connected them with a real company and had them do projects with said company. It was very difficult for students to form a team, identify a client, identify the needs of that client, complete the project, and give a presentation during the 10 weeks of the quarter system. If I imagine myself teaching a class with 15 weeks, that would give students more adequate time,” he said.

Dr. Laura Freberg, who teaches intro to psychology, biological psychology, and sensation and perception at Cal Poly, agrees with the pro-semester sentiments of Tietje, citing insufficient time to discuss key concepts of her courses.

“There is no doubt that Cal Poly will switch to semesters,” Freberg said. “There is barely a debate.”

Visit for more information on the Semester Review Task Force, as well as to find a PDF containing minutes of task force meetings and a full list of representatives.

Additional reporting provided by Staff Writer Nick Powell, who can be reached at [email protected]

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